One has to wonder what Largent Parks would think. Born on Swiss Avenue the year the lake was created, he came of age with White Rock. He would ride his bike down Junius, past the Lakewood Country Club, and head with his picnic lunch for the cool waters of Dallas’s latest attraction. When he reached manhood in the ’50s and moved to Waterview Road with his bride Laura, they would hear music playing and laughter bouncing up from the Bonnie Barge, out for a jolly night’s cruise. 

 

Today, the roads around White Rock Lake are paved. You’ll see more water bottles on bicycles than picnic baskets. Nature lovers can observe dozens of tree, plant, grass and wildflower species that have come to call the area home over the decades, not to mention dozens of wildlife species and more than 200 kinds of birds. Admittedly, there is no more swimming nor a party barge, but we did have quite a large dredge for awhile.

 

For the next year or so, the dam and spillway will be under repair by Dallas Water Utilities. Meetings with neighbors have elicited City promises of minimum tree removal, overall environmental sensitivity and aesthetic consideration. To improve safety, vegetation breaking though the dam will be removed, the crest cap and stop logs replaced, embankments restructured, cracks sealed. But that’s just a hint of what’s been going on lately.

 

In truth the changes at hand are far more dramatic than anyone may have envisioned 90-plus years ago. Thousands of volunteer hours and millions of dollars — some City, some private — are infusing this urban lake and the surrounding park lands with renewed vitality. This is largely due to the passionate, persistent efforts of community activists in recent years.

 

Dreaming Big

 

In 1993, business woman and restaurateur Jeannie Terilli decided to show the neighborhood that she could do more than bake a mean lasagna. With the founding of “Friends of the Lake,” she mobilized residents to get behind major dredging measures for the lake and to have the project placed on the upcoming City bond ballot. Terilli and friends papered the City with mail campaigns and captured the media’s attention. Terilli spoke out for the protection of White Rock Lake to newspapers, to radio and television stations, to magazines.

 

After City voters responded by approving a nine million dollar bond (with another nine coming from City Stormwater Funds), the group began to look further down the road. They realized that the work yet to be done would be colossal — more than could be accomplished in the short run. To work toward the ideal destiny of White Rock, “Friends of the Lake” joined forces with other lake activists as well as local chambers of commerce, homeowners associations, various users groups and other civic organizations to form the unified advocacy group, “The White Rock Lake Foundation.” Their stated mission is to “act as a community steward for White Rock Lake and Park” and “to assist the Park and Recreation Department in the restoration, maintenance and preservation of the lake’s natural health and beauty for the benefit of people and wildlife.”

 

Taking a hard look at the result of 90 years of deterioration and considering long-term solutions, the Foundation presented the City with a list of goals that included the development of a comprehensive landscape architectural concept for White Rock Lake. Today, Dallas planners are working with a $10 million-plus master plan for landscaping, streets, sidewalks, intersections, pedestrian and bike access, and parking areas. Last fall, voters approved $3 million toward implementation, which will be used to re-work the entrance at Garland and Lawther Drive among other areas. The Foundation hopes that the new entrance will serve as a model for how the rest of the park will look if the master plan is fully implemented.

 

“People don’t know that that the City has money budgeted [also] to improve the hike and bike trails, the roadways, the fishing pier, the Dreyfuss Club, Winfrey Point and Flag Pole Hill,” adds Mayor Pro Tem Mary Poss.

 

At press time, Foundation volunteers were hard at work on their April 26 golf tournament at the Lakewood Country Club; funds will be used to supplement City funds for the master plan. For information about the Foundation, to contribute or to become a volunteer, contact 214-324-4760 or 821-6395; 9310 West Lake Highlands Drive; Dallas TX 75218. 

 

 

Talking Trash

 

Organizations like “For the Love of the Lake” are reminiscent of that scene in a certain old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movie where they exclaim, “Hey! My dad has a barn — let’s put on a show.” One day in 1996, Marci Novak Winter was walking around the lake and decided she felt really bad about all the trash. So she and some friends decided to raise “a little money” to put up some “no littering” signs and … maybe tidy up a bit. Their initial fundraising effort, a concert with folk singer John McCutcheon, raised $23,000. And they were off.

 

Two years and $200,000 later, funds raised together with thousands of volunteer hours — including monthly trash pick-ups — paid off. Not only was litter reduced, but basic park facilities were improved for present-day use.

 

“It’s  heart-warming, moving to see what’s happened,” Winter says. “Sometimes when I’m at the lake and look around, it takes my breath away. I’ll see whole areas that are litter-free … people using the trash and recycling receptacles, sitting on benches that have been donated, parking their bikes in the bike racks, drinking from new water fountains, reading maps and flyers at the information kiosks, contemplating the Mayor’s bronzed proclamation, smiling at the whimsical restroom murals, using the children’s playground or the Workout Center fitness equipment.”

 

The group has made inroads in current maintenance of the shoreline and park, but litter remains a persistent problem. Although park goers appear to be increasingly sensitive about using trash and recycling receptacles, the shoreline clean-up effort faces a dilemma: the majority of the rubbish does not come from those who frequent White Rock. Most shoreline debris appears to have washed down White Rock Creek from northern suburban areas such as Plano and Frisco; a good rain can undo hard volunteer work in short order. So trash will probably remain a big part of FTLOTL’s focus for the immediate future.

 

FTLOTL is usually recognized for events such as “Trash Bash,” “Adopt-A-Shoreline” and “Bake for the Lake.” Winter, who now also serves on the Foundation board, describes their bunch as an “immediate gratification group — a bunch of obsessed, hands-on, get-it-done-now kind of folks.” For information about volunteering or contributing, contact 972-622-SAVE, www.whiterocklake.org.

 

Throwing a Party

 

A fall weekend community event being driven by “long-time community activists,” to quote Mayor Pro Tem Mary Poss, is scheduled to take place at White Rock Lake, Sept. 17-19. “Lakefest ’99” profits will be used to supplement City funding of the lake’s master plan. Event chair Bill Patterson, who also serves on the Foundation Board, and event promoter Barbara Adamson, who got the ball rolling, are planning one big party.

 

“I’ve lived in the White Rock Lake area all my life,” says Adamson. “Especially going to Woodrow Wilson, that was the place you went for all your dances. In the late ’40s, you went to Winfrey Point, the Dreyfuss Club … it’s just an area of intense memories for anyone who grew up here.

 

Adamson lives in Forest Hills and drives past the lake each day on her way to work. One day she just about pulled the car over.

 

“It was a beautiful morning, the water was clear — looked like ice. I was awestruck by how beautiful it was and I said ‘we’ve got to do something special for the Lake when the dredging is done.’”

 

Adamson brought her proposal first to Poss and then began to develop full-scale plans. It soon became apparent that the scale of the project was a full-time job; at that time, the newly organized White Junior Chamber of Commerce stepped in and Lakefest ’99 is now being administered by their executive director and one of their members, Cunningham.

 

The event will largely take place on the east side of the Lake. At press time “Lakefest ’99” had received the endorsement of the City Parks Department and plans included:

n Ticketed concerts on Flag Pole Hill; the group is currently negotiating with Lyle Lovett and the Isley Brothers, and plans to contact key performers in other music genres;

n Free ongoing performances by local musicians and performers on a central stage at the Big Thicket;

n An Olympic-style village near the Bath House with games, tents and rides, and featuring clowns, jugglers, face painters, artists, a petting zoo, food and demonstrations;

n Several parades and shoreline interactive events; and

n A celebrity golf tournament at Samuell Grand.

 

Numerous promotional events including corporate challenges are planned in advance of the event. In addition to raising money for improvements, the group hopes to draw the entire City’s attention to the history, charm and value of the Lake. Their plans include coaxing celebrities who grew up in the area to participate (will or will not Morgan Fairchild consent to playing The Lady of the Lake?). In anticipation of the scope of the event, organizers have make ample plans have been made to control trash, provide security and fire safety, and regulate traffic.

 

“There will obviously be traffic with an event of this type,” says Poss. “Barbara Adamson and the Park Department have pledged to work extremely hard to develop off-site parking areas and other traffic management plans to mitigate the concerns in the community.” As an prototype, she cited the Arboretum’s “outstanding job of controlling the problem and prohibiting traffic through the neighborhood.”

 

The Advocate will be publishing more about “Lakefest ’99” later in the summer as details are finalized. For information about sponsorships, booths, providing local entertainment or making contributions, contact the event chair at 972-702-2985 or fax 972-702-2997.

 

Back to the Future

 

In addition to the progress at White Rock itself, more than half a dozen major residential and retail developments are underway nearby. The East Dallas YMCA has purchased the Gaston Bazaar building site for their new facility; one motivation was the possibility of linking their future programs and facilities in with the lake’s. Y organizers hope to provide meeting space for lake organizations and associations, and to be a convenient stop-off for bikers and joggers. 

 

As in days past, the citizens of Dallas have come to value the lake — and the City is committed to the preservation and improvement of its urban treasure. There’s music, laughter, parties. Families and friends gather on the shores to enjoy the sun and watch it set over sparkling waters.

 

Come to think of it … maybe Largent Parks wouldn’t find White Rock Lake so very different now.